The New England Patriots announced the signings of seven undrafted free agents on May 8, 2015.
Michigan quarterback-turned-wideout Devin Gardner was among them. California receiver Chris Harper, Georgia center David Andrews, Vanderbilt defensive tackle Vince Taylor, Ball State cornerback Eric Patterson and Alabama-Birmingham DB Jimmy Jean all were, too.
But the list also featured an Auburn transfer by the name of Brandon King.
And like only Andrews – now a 41-game starter and team captain – New England’s roster still does feature him.
The Patriots re-signed King to a two-year pact through 2019 on Thursday morning, as ESPN’s Field Yates first reported. According to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, the soon-to-be restricted free agent’s contract is worth $2.6 million – with base salaries of $775,000 and $925,000 – and includes a $400,000 signing bonus.
King’s rookie signing bonus checked in at $3,000.
It was in the hours following the 2015 NFL draft that King tweeted he was “thankful and humbled to be a part of the Patriots program.” Though until New England confirmed the news six days later, it remained unclear whether the 6-foot-2, 220-pound prospect without a definitive position was, in fact, a part of the undrafted class.
On the surface, King’s resume seemed closer to that of a rookie minicamp invite than a priority free agent.
The Patriots didn’t see it that way.
A native of Alabaster, Ala., and product of Thompson High School, King recorded 118 tackles at Highland Community College in Kansas before committing to Auburn in January 2013. The former first-team All-Jayhawk Conference selection went on to play in every game for the Tigers as a junior arrival that fall, netting three solo stops at the “star” linebacker position prior to moving back to safety for 2014.
Only King would line up sparingly there as a senior. He’d line up sparingly as a pass-rushing end following a midseason switch, as well, logging just north of 60 snaps in the Auburn defense by the time the SEC championship-winning year was over.
King had appeared in all 13 contests by then to collect a dozen tackles and a fumble recovery. But his Tigers stay came and went without a start. It came and went with King playing more frequently in the kicking game than anywhere else.
“I’d say most of the credit on that one has to go to [Patriots special-teams coordinator] Joe Judge. Joe dug him out,” Bill Belichick said postgame after King recorded two tackles and a forced fumble on Nov. 23, 2015, via Patriots.com. “Brandon is kind of an interesting guy. He’s really played pretty much every position on the field on defense. He played three-technique at Auburn. It’s hard to imagine him as a defensive tackle, but he was and he actually didn’t play bad. He was just obviously undersized, but he had good playing strength and could definitely run.”
Belichick was among those in attendance for that year’s Auburn pro day as eventual NFL draft picks in Sammie Coates, Angelo Blackson, Gabe Wright, C.J. Uzomah and Cameron Artis-Payne ran. Yet so did King.
He posted 4.40 and 4.45-second 40-yard dashes, a 38-inch vertical, a 10-foot-6 broad jump and 19 bench reps of 225 pounds during the workout.
“Bigger than a lot of the speed guys,” “faster than a lot of the big guys,” and overall, a “mismatch guy,” as Belichick later described him, King’s traits have proven translatable. They’ve been put to work on New England’s kickoff-coverage, kickoff-return, punt-coverage and punt-return units.
King ranked third on the Patriots with 267 special-teams snaps as a rookie, fourth with 299 in 2016, and fifth with 236 despite missing three contests due to a hamstring injury in 2017. Those three inactives this past campaign were first for King since being promoted from the practice squad on Oct. 10, 2015 – as the corresponding move to veteran corner Bradley Fletcher’s release.
The 24-year-old has since outlasted five members from the Patriots’ 11-man draft class of 2015, and all but Andrews from that spring’s initial seven undrafted signings. He’s played in 42 regular-season games to accrue 30 tackles, a safety against the Los Angeles Chargers, and the aforementioned forced fumble against the Buffalo Bills. He’s been in the third phase for all eight playoff games over that span.
For a player who’s yet to notch a defensive snap – and one who’s listed as a safety but practices with the linebackers – No. 36 has indeed been an “interesting guy.” For a core special-teamer not named Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner or Brandon Bolden, King has found himself a part of the same, unlikely conversation.
The Patriots will look to continue the conversation as unrestricted waters open next week.